The Art of Appreciating Fine Whisky With Torquhil Campbell, The 13th Duke of Argyll

The duke doesn't discriminate when it comes to whisky; instead, he adds water

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For someone who grew up in a city of fancy skylines, dukedom and royal affairs were a world away. Great castles seemed to me like something out of a fairytale, something I only read about in books and saw in the movies. So what then, is living in a castle like?

The 13th Duke of Argyll, whose main seat is the Inveraray Castle in western Scotland, tells me that there is a saying in England. “A man’s home is his castle,” the duke begins with a smile. “A castle is just a really big house.”

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The Inveraray Castle

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and well-tailored navy pants, it is apparent that Torquhil Campbell is a man of grace. The man of many titles is also an ambassador of Royal Salute, captain of Scotland's national elephant polo team, clan chief and father of three, with a busy schedule that takes him all over the world. As we sat in the beautiful daylight that spilled across the oasis that is the St Regis’ Tropical Spa Pool, the elegant duke regaled me on something funny he worked out just the day before.

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“The whisky that is in a Royal Salute 21 Year Old today was being made when I joined the company 21 years ago,” he says with a laugh. “That’s really strange, isn’t it? I’ve been a brand ambassador since 2007 but I’ve worked for the company for 21 years.”

More than just a coincidence, the duke has indeed, an extensive background in whisky. “There are certain things that have been instilled into me in how you should appreciate whisky and how you should understand it,” he explains. “[My whisky background] really comes from the people who make it – the master blenders and master distillers.”

On what makes a good whisky, the duke lists quality, age and character as important elements. “It’s got so many different flavours and aromas, and I just really want to appreciate the best I can get,” he says.

Campbell is partial to a Speyside sort of floral and fruitiness, so God forbid you serve him a dram that implodes with a powerful, peaty flavour. “I’m not so keen on the peaty ones,” he tells me. “They’re still great whiskies, but we’ve all got our individual preferences.”

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A really good whisky, however, has to be aged, says Campbell. “Of course, there many great whiskies, but I think when you’re a little bit older you appreciate quality,” he says. “To me, Royal Salute is about as great as you can get; a 21-year-old whisky with age, substance and character.”

He recalled the ‘Olfactory Experience’ at the stunning Tamarind Hill restaurant the night before, where we tasted a series of cocktails and Royal Salute whiskies throughout dinner, led by famed perfumer and Royal Salute creative advisor Barnabe Fillion. Eager to try the fascinating series of cocktails, the duke found himself returning to his glass of Royal Salute on ice, which he deems his favourite.

While the duke professes his love for whisky in a multitude of different ways, be it a whisky cocktail or whisky on the rocks in a tall glass in a hot country, he shares that a 50/50 proportion of water and whisky the first step in really understanding the whisky. In the whisky making process, whether it is during the stages of blending or when the final blend has been achieved, Campbell explains that the master blenders taste the whisky by mixing it with water and whisky in equal parts. “That’s how they get the maximum aroma and flavour out of the whisky,” he says.

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The duke is no 'whisky snob', though. “That’s not to say I don’t have a Chivas 12 and ginger or whatever sometimes,” he insists. I nodded, wondering aloud if, as the ambassador for Royal Salute, Campbell must prefer a blended whisky to a single malt.

“That is not strictly true,” Campbell says. “I don’t prefer malt to blend or the other way around. One could argue the point that it is much more difficult to make a really great blended whisky than a single malt whisky.”

“I think one of the great accolades of Royal Salute 21 Years Old is that while it is a blended whisky, it has probably the highest percentage of malt whisky of any aged blend. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I think a lot of people assume that a blended whisky is inferior to a malt whisky, when it’s not. We like to say that making a single malt is a science, but making blended whisky is an art.”

Speaking of art, the art of luxury lies in what comes from within and the ability to share it, says the duke. “My style of luxury is pretty much understated luxury,” he tells me. “I like the subtleness of knowing that I know what it is, and not everyone else necessarily has to know.”

For a whisky like Royal Salute, the first luxury Scotch whisky and one specially made for the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, Campbell reckons that it is something to be shared.

“I would never sit down at home on my own and drink a glass of Royal Salute,” he declares. “I will always want to share it, but I would drink something else on my own.

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